With the complex challenges facing them today, corporations are increasingly turning to leaders with a broad and varied set of experiences to navigate change and generate long-term success.
One example is Mary Barra, who became CEO of GM as global automakers were facing their biggest industry overhaul since the birth of the assembly line: the future of cars themselves. Mary embraced the depths of that challenge and many of her colleagues have said this stemmed from the long and varied career she’s had at GM, progressing through different stints in HR, product design, and manufacturing.
I was thinking about Mary’s experience and my own, during my keynote address to some 200 supply chain professionals at the recent SCM World Live Americas conference. The topic was “harnessing diversity for better business outcomes” and, while I’m sure most of the audience was expecting to hear a speech that called for greater gender and ethnic diversity in the supply chain organisation, my message was bigger than that.
As I think about what it takes for companies to be at the top of their game and ensure high-quality, reliable products at a competitive cost, I resonate with the value of diverse perspectives and experience across functions and industries – as well as gender and ethnicity – and the impact they can have on the company as a whole.
The value equation
Of course, gender and ethnic diversity are two important dimensions that can have a positive impact on company performance.
McKinsey & Company, a major consulting firm, has been examining diversity in the workplace for several years: having studied more than 360 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the UK, and the US, they found that corporations in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. The number is even higher (35%) for ethnically diverse companies. (McKinsey: “Why Diversity Matters”)
To be clear, it’s not just a matter of fairness, but one of value – and the ability to deliver value is what can move companies in new and better directions. My company, Zoetis, understands this. As the world leaders in animal health in terms of revenue, innovation and market share, consider that six of the 11 executives reporting to our CEO are women. And our executive team is culturally diverse as well. As you would expect, this diversity makes for some healthy debates at the leadership table – but it also leads to robust and thoughtful decisions. Take that a step further and add experiential diversity to the mix…imagine the possibilities.
One step that Zoetis has taken in this direction is ensuring we invite the right people from the right functional groups to attend meetings and participate in different projects. This is a win-win in terms of broadening our exposure to various aspects of the business, and giving our colleagues the chance to collaborate across functions. What’s more, it opens the door to the next generation of leaders who are well equipped for tackling challenges and changes from multiple perspectives.
Three lessons learned
Diversity is an important foundation for companies like Zoetis, who face the need to transform their manufacturing and supply network for the future. I find myself continually drawing upon the experience I’ve had in other parts of the organisation to help lead this effort.
For example, a deep experience in strategy development from my consulting days has helped shape our new focus on where we can differentiate and ensure we own these parts of our supply chain; my experience in HR has helped me assess the talent I needed in the organisation to drive change and leadership; and my financial background gave me the ability to build a sound business case to our CEO and Board to justify the manufacturing and supply network transformation.
Next to parenting, my current role is the toughest job I’ll ever love. As both a mother and the proud owner of two dogs, I also know how important it is to be part of a business that people depend on to keep both pets and livestock animals healthy.
All this experience has taught me three valuable lessons:
- First, today’s increasingly competitive environment demands as much innovation as operation. Traditionally we have focused more on the latter, and while operation continues to be important, I’ve learned that areas like our evolving supply chain require the ability to integrate big data, harness technology, and deliver on the process innovation our customers demand. That requires a broader set of skills, which can be achieved if we attract a bigger pipeline of STEM-driven students into the workplace – those with backgrounds in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
- Second, developing broad networks is critical. Social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn have their purpose, but I’m also a fan of cultivating meaningful relationships with internal and external stakeholders. This involves listening to what’s on their minds, and knowing what makes them and their business successful. It’s about understanding how you can help them, and how they can partner with you.
- Getting there takes a far-reaching approach to career building, which leads to my third point: diverse talent comes from rich experiences. So let’s embrace the varied career path that affords us a mix of different roles and responsibilities. Cultivating a wide set of skills, experience and points of view from many facets of the company – and developing those networks along the way – can result in a greater perspective that becomes a win-win for you, your company, customers and suppliers alike.
Kristin Peck is Executive Vice President and Group President at Zoetis. In this role, she is responsible for Global Manufacturing and Supply, Global Poultry, Global Diagnostics, Corporate Development and New Product Marketing and Global Market Research.